I was drawn to the field of Anthropology because of its ability to attend to how people navigate relations of power in everyday life. I believe in the power of ethnography to capture the nuances of people’s multi-layered experiences of systems, institutions, and policies. I completed my doctoral studies in Cultural Anthropology at Rice University, where I conducted research on migrant-targeted social welfare policies in Melbourne, Australia, observing the everyday work of family violence prevention workers, policymakers, and migrant community leaders. After completing my PhD, I spent two years as an Assistant Professor (general faculty) at the University of Virginia’s Global Studies Program, where I taught courses in refugee mobilities, refugee resettlement, global policing, migrant-led political activism, and critical studies of globalization. I recently joined the UBC faculty in 2022.
Inspired by my public education work with Afghan American artists and writers around Afghan diasporic experiences of displacement, detention, and dissent, my current project is an ethnographic and historical study of Afghan American and Afghan Australian diasporic activism over the past twenty years around the mass displacement and global asylum regime produced during the Global War on Terror. The project examines how living as first and second-generation migrants in settler colonial states shape the forms that political dissent can take, in the hopes of contributing toward ethnographic and historically situated analyses of the entanglements of diasporas, border formations, empire, and coloniality.
Mobility, Migration, Critical Refugee Studies, Settler Colonialism, and the Anthropology of care, policy, social movements, empire, and diasporas, with a focus on the US, Australia, and the global Afghan diaspora.
Grounded in ethnographic methods, my research aims to further conceptualizations of migrant-targeted liberatory projects that emerge within settler colonial nation-states, with a focus on Australia and the United States. I am interested in the logics of belonging, community, and personhood such projects both rely upon and aim to reimagine. A common question that cuts across my research is how do settler colonial logics of cultural recognition and assimilation in tandem with migrants’ own transnational cultural ties, structure post-war migrants’ conceptions of cultural citizenship and political participation?
My interest in the governance of migrants was shaped by my first long-term ethnographic project, carried out across 14 months in 2015, and 2016-2017 with family violence prevention practitioners in Melbourne, Australia and its inner suburbs who were tasked with carrying out a new forced marriage prevention policy targeted toward Muslim migrant communities. In my book titled Between Care and Criminality: Marriage, Citizenship, and Family in Australian Social Welfare (forthcoming 2024, Rutgers University Press), I focus on bringing to light the moral and ethical dilemmas confronted by prevention workers as they attempted to care for migrant communities, while also engaging in risk assessment, profiling, and representational practices that governed their intimate familial relations in new ways. The research reveals how biopolitical welfare reads migrant sociality in terms of good or bad citizenship and produces the world in the image of liberalism’s illusory ideals.
My research in Australia has also formed the basis for a short-term project I conducted from 2017 to 2020 analysing literature and media that emerged out of Australian offshore detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru. The project sought to understand how detained asylum seekers themselves theorized detention’s logics of carceral confinement. It examined shifting logics of Australian extraterritorial sovereignty, the outsourcing of violence to resource poor islands as a colonial formation, and the increasingly diffuse nature of border control. It also examined the ways in which people seeking asylum theorize the settler colonial logics of detention as situating migrant mobility and Indigeneity in conflict with one another, in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.
My current research tentatively titled Unsettling the Future: Afghan Diasporic Politics in the United States and Australia, is an ethnographic and historical study of Afghan American and Afghan Australian diasporic activism over the past twenty years. The project will examine how both diasporas engage with and subvert dominant political and cultural imaginaries of Afghanistan as both a geographic entity and a discursive formation, and how this engagement is shaped by ongoing social movements in their respective contexts. Both Afghan American and Afghan Australian anti-war and refugee rights activism has been deeply shaped by immigrant rights movements in the US and Indigenous sovereignty movements in Australia. This study asks how diasporas borne out of empire co-imagine liberatory futures with other marginalized groups, as well as the limits of those solidarities. It aims to build on conversations at the intersection of diasporic activism, empire, and settler colonialism.
Forthcoming 2023. Zeweri, Helena and Tom Gregory. “Outside the Wire: Brereton and the Dehumanisation of Afghan Civilians.” Australian Journal of Political Science.
2023. “Carceral Coloniality as a History of the Present.” InFreedom, Only Freedom: The Writings of Behrouz Boochani. Boochani, Behrouz, Moones Mansoubi, and Omid Tofighian, eds. London: Bloomsbury Press.
2023. “Configuring Forced Marriage as a Foil to Arranged Marriage in Multicultural Australia.” In Arranged Marriage: The Politics of Tradition, Resistance, and Change. Berta, Peter, ed. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
2021. Zeweri, Helena and Eloy Gardea. “Cultivated Intuition: Reframing Migrant Responses to the ‘Public Charge’ Policy.” Ethnic and Racial Studies.
2021. Zeweri, Helena and Sara Shinkfield. “Centering Migrant Community Voices in Forced Marriage Prevention Social Policy,” Australian Journal of Social Issues: 1-16.
2020.“Beyond Response and Representation: Muslim Australian Women Reimagining Anti-Islamophobia Politics”, Feminist Formations 32(2): 111-135.
2017.“The Specter of Failure: Rendering Afghan Women as Sites of Precarity in Empowerment Regimes.” International Feminist Journal of Politics 4: 441-455.
Select Public Scholarship:
Zeweri, Helena and Wazhmah Osman. “Afghan Women and Self-Determination: Always Resisting Empire.” Against the Current. Jan/Feb. 2022.
Osman, Wazhmah, Helena Zeweri, and Seelai Karzai. 2021. “The Fog of the Forever War with a Laugh Track in ‘United States of Al’”, Middle East Research and Information Project.
2020.“Managing Refugee Mobilities: Global Flows of Migration Deterrence Technologies,” Platypus: The Blog of the Committee on the Anthropology of Science, Technology, and Computing.
2018. “Australia’s Values-Based Asylum Activism.” Anthropology News. 20 August 2018.
2017. “Encounters on the Shore: Geographies of Violence in Australia’s Contemporary Border Regime,” Rejoinder: Institute for Research on Women-Rutgers University.
Books: Between Care and Criminality: Marriage, Citizenship, and Family in Australian Social Welfare (forthcoming 2024, Rutgers University Press).
2021, Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Fieldwork Grant, University of Virginia
2020, Emerging Scholars Fellowship-Global Migration, Anthropology, Boston University
2020, Global Scholars Early Career Fellowship-Global and International Studies, UC-Irvine
2016, Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research Dissertation Fieldwork Grant
2016, American Institute of Afghanistan Studies John F. Richards Fellowship for Dissertation Research